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I have a 15 amp circuit breaker in my house. It controls 1 of the basement circuits for a room that has:

  • 1 small dim CFL wall sconce
  • 6 ceiling cans with CFL bulbs
  • 6 wall outlets that only have a single nightlight plugged into them
  • a double outlet (4 outlets total) that have a dvd player, a 50" LED flat TV, a small stereo

Some things I've tested:

  • My whole-house heater/AC is not on this circuit
  • My whole-house water filter (which does draw some power) is not on this circuit
  • There is no sump-pump and I can't think of any other appliances that might be on this circuit.

The basement was renovated 6 years ago and when that happened the whole house electrical panel was upgraded to a modern unit.

The breaker has been tripping periodically ever since the basement renovation. Sometimes it will go for a month or 2 without tripping. Sometimes it trips and trips again within a minute of resetting.

The time of day it trips is not consistent. The load on the circuit when it trips is not consistent.

What steps should I follow to try to pinpoint the problem? What are the likely causes of the problem?

  • I presume you know where the breaker is, since you are resetting it all the time. Does it have a "TEST" button on the breaker somewhere? – Harper Nov 3 '17 at 18:27
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    Also get a bunch of those baby plugs and plug those 6 wall outlets, and get a power strip and an extension cord and power the double outlet/TV/stereo from a different circuit. And cut the breaker and check absolutely everything in the house to make sure it all works with this breaker cut out, i.e. you're not missing any loads. – Harper Nov 3 '17 at 18:36
  • @Harper it does not have a TEST button on it. – greggles Nov 3 '17 at 20:36
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There are a few possibilities, if this is a standard breaker. If it is AFCI or GFCI, there are a few other things to check, but you didn't mention that.

  1. There is a high-current draw on the breaker that you are not aware of. When the breaker trips, you can check the temperature of it with a non-contact thermometer. If it is warmer than the breakers around it, that would indicate a high current load. The internal heat is one thing that causes a breaker to trip. You can also check the load with a clamp meter after removing the cover for the panel (you might not be comfortable with that).

  2. The breaker is bad. This happens, but its not very frequent. Replacing it requires removing the cover of your electric panel (again, you may or may not be comfortable with that). It's a simple a cheap item to replace, so if there isn't a high load and its still tripping, this could be a good next step.

  3. There is a bad connection to an outlet or light that shorts out periodically. This can be the hardest to find, so that's why I suggested replacing the breaker to rule it out before hunting for this one. The only way I know of finding this is to inspect every connection downstream from the breaker to find a loose or charred connection. Any outlet that is loose in the wall or doesn't feel right when plugging something in would be suspect.

  • it could also be a loose connection at the breaker itself - but you cover the bases with your answer. Of course I would not like that install - I would have a breaker for the lights and 2 for the outlets (just in case a space heater gets used) . Loose connections on outlets I would wiggle the outlets with the back end a wooden spoon to see if I could make something happen. If it is a GFCI breaker- he could have a loose neutral, an AFCI - those CFL's could cause an issue. A very good answer though. – Ken Nov 4 '17 at 7:28
  • I suspect it is still #1, especially with how the description was made on what may or may not be controlled by the breaker. OP should check HALL LIGHTs, and other lights. What size bulbs are you using? LED TV's actually use a good chunk of current. CFL bulbs do use more current then people give them credit for, chandelier lamps in a hallway with 6-12 mini candlebra bulbs, not to mention, a potential BAD wiring or overloaded wirenut or BACKSTABS with high resistance connections could all amplify curret & heat and thus the breaker trips – noybman Nov 4 '17 at 17:39
  • I accepted this answer since it's the most thorough, though the below answer by Jeff is a good tip as well. Amazingly enough, since posting this I haven't had more trips (though I'm sure they will recur at some point) so I don't know what the final problem was. I'll try to remember to post back if/when I do determine the cause! – greggles Dec 13 '17 at 16:33
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Temporarily swap the hot wires for this breaker with another adjacent breaker that has the same amp rating. If it happens again you will see if it is the circuit or the breaker that is the problem depending on which breaker trips.

Don't forget to swap the wires back so that everything is on the correct leg and the panel is still labeled correctly!

I don't think it makes sense to spend any more time troubleshooting it until you rule out the breaker as the problem.

  • This is a great suggestion since it's relatively easy to do. Thanks for the advice. – greggles Dec 13 '17 at 16:28

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